6 Reasons to Visit Bariloche, Argentina

July 24, 2013 by

Places to Go, South & Central America, Suggested Itineraries, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

The Alps’ Latin American siblings are undoubtedly the Andes Mountains, where you can find San Carlosde Bariloche, Argentina. Located inside a national park on the northern end of the Argentine Patagonia, the area has lured explorers since the 16th century.

Established first as a colony and then as a city in 1902, Bariloche rightfully means “the people behind the mountain” in the language of Mapuche, the indigenous people of Argentina and Chile.

Visiting Bariloche – the getaway to the Argentine and Chilean Lake District – offers incredible enjoyment for its visitors. Walk through the town center when you visit Bariloche, and you’ll see water surrounded by mountains at every corner, waiting peacefully for your arrival between Swiss-looking buildings and chocolate stores. Here’s how you can make the most of your time in Bariloche.

The local chocolate is among the best in the world

Bariloche chocolate is among the best in the World.

Bariloche chocolate is among the best in the World.

Argentina is well known for its bitter mate (pronounced: ma-te), an infusion of yerba mate leaves with hot water, so the sweetness that’s associated with Bariloche is a real contrast. Said to now have the best chocolate in Argentina –perhaps even in South America – the streets of Bariloche have been filled with the scent of chocolate for decades, thanks to Europeans who immigrated here after World War II.

Two of these immigrants were Ines and Aldo Fenoglio, who came from Italy and opened a chocolate company at their new home. As the years passed and the company thrived in its sale of chocolates around the country, two of the couple’s children, Laura and Diego, became involved in the family business. In 1996, Diego launched his own chocolate store, called Rapa Nui, on Mitre, Bariloche’s main street.

Colored in purple, with plenty of places to sit inside and out, Rapa Nui offered a Chocolate Happy Hour, giving discounts on its delicious products.

Various chocolates at Rapa Nui. Photo by Christian Stocker via Flickr.

Various chocolates at Rapa Nui. Photo by Christian Stocker via Flickr.

Yet even if you can’t find an official “happy hour”, every hour will be happy when you try the endless tastes and flavors offered in this city. In Rapa Nui alone, you can find white chocolate, bitter chocolate, orange chocolate, chocolate with lemon, chocolate with rum, chocolate with cereal, praline hazelnuts, white chocolate with almonds, milk chocolate with almonds, pure milk chocolate, berries covered in chocolate, cherries covered in chocolate, ice creams, pastries and so much more.

Experience a bit of Europe in South America

The Hotel Llao Llao and golf resort

The famous Hotel Llao Llao and golf resort

Chocolate is not the only mark Europeans have inscribed on Bariloche. Swiss architecture was used to develop tourism in the area, to make its European visitors feel at home, while local materials were used to stay true to the Patagonian region.

The results can be seen in landmark buildings like luxurious hotel Llao Llao, the San Carlos de Bariloche Cathedral, Perito Moreno Plaza (named after famed Argentine explorer Francisco Pascasio Moreno, who’s been nicknamed Perito Moreno and has a glacier named after him further south, in El Calafate) and the Civic Center – which houses offices such as the City Hall and the police, as well as a museum and a library – right in front of Nahuel Huapi Lake.

As you walk through the streets of Bariloche, you’ll find another European-imported legacy – St. Bernard dogs and puppies. These dogs, waiting to pose with tourists as their owners’ income source, once served as rescue dogs in snow and mountain areas.

It’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts

Nahuel Huapi Lake

Nahuel Huapi Lake

Blessed with the large Nahuel Huapi Lake and surrounded by mountains, Bariloche is an ideal destination for those who enjoy outdoor activities.

If you’re looking for hardcore trekking, go on the five-day Nahuel Huapi Traverse. Due to the area’s ever-changing weather and the difficulty of the trek, you can only venture off with a registered mountain guide. The easiest part of the trek, which you can do independently, is the five hour hike to Refugio Frey.

There are several refugios – lodges that act as hostels for hikers – across Nahuel Huapi National Park, each marking an end of a trail. These refugios also enable travelers to camp nearby, paying to use the refugio’s facilities, such as its kitchen.

A three-day alternative to the Nahuel Huapi Traverse is to hike around Mount Tronador, where you’ll spot lakes, falls and the dark-looking Black Glacier. The glacier will be visible once you reach Tronador’s peak.

Only have a few hours or a day to spend in the area?  Travel the Small Circuit for a few viewpoints of mountains and lakes.  If there’s time for the Grand Circuit, you’ll also get to visit the nearby town of Villala Angostura, from which you can return to Bariloche by bus, car or boat.

If you love being near the water, take a boat trip to Victoria Island, whose trees inspired the creation of the movie Bambi. Another boat trip will have you crossing the border into the Chilean town Puerto Montt. With its multitude of lakes the aptly-named Lake District offers plenty of water sports activities, like kayaking in Lake Nahuel Huapi.

Fairs and festivals keep the party going all year round

There are many festivals and games to be played in Bariloche. Photo by Alberto via Flickr.

There are many festivals and games to be played in Bariloche. Photo by Alberto via Flickr.

A permanent exhibition of artists selling their merchandise on the streets of Bariloche takes place every day, except for Wednesdays. You’ll find them close to the CivicCenter, on Urquiza street, which is located between Mitre and Moreno streets.

You might even have the privilege of watching a painter create his merchandise right there on the street, quickly painting the landscapes of the city. Handmade clothes, jewelry, toys, models of musical instruments and, of course, calabash gourds for drinking Argentines’ beloved mate liven up the streets.

Bariloche relies heavily on tourism as its central economy, so the city creates events to lure travelers to come visit. When you plan your trip, be on the lookout for what’s happening in the city. Some events are annual, such as the Fiesta de las Colectividades Europo-Argentinas – also known as the Heritage Festival, which celebrates Argentina’s European ethnicities, such as

Spanish, Italian, Croatian, Slovenian, Russian, Hungarian, Austrian, Danish, German, Swiss and Basque, with traditional food and drink and performances of the traditional dances of each ethnicity.

To enjoy Bariloche’s chocolate culture taken to the next level attend the Chocolate Festival, which takes place around Easter. Here you’ll find chocolate sculptures of various sizes, including a huge chocolate Easter egg displayed at the CivicCenter. At more than four tons, last year’s ­28-foot-tall egg was claimed to be the largest Easter egg in the world – before it was cut down and given to the crowd, that is.

The Chocolate Festival used to be part of the National Festival of Snow, which still takes place every June, celebrating Bariloche as Argentina’s favorite ski destination. Top Argentine skiers show off their skill during the day, then again at nighttime with flaming torches and fireworks lighting the sky.

The views from above – and on the ground – will leave you breathless

There are some mesmerizing views in Bariloche

There are some mesmerizing views in Bariloche

Located inside Nahuel Huapi National Park, the city of Bariloche is known for its gorgeous sunsets and sunrises – with the AndesMountains as a backdrop. You can view the sun’s movements from the top of Mounts Catedral, Campanario, Otto, Frey, Lopez and Tronador – or from anywhere by the large Nahuel Huapi Lake.

The sky’s changing colors as the sun moves are fleeting and often hidden by clouds. Use this challenge as an excuse to try different viewing points each day, until you find your perfect sunrise and sunset.

A revolving restaurant at the top of MountOtto offers another view of the landscape. The restaurant doesn’t have an official name besides Revolving Restaurant or Rotating Restaurant, yet it’s the only one of its kind in Bariloche and there are no other restaurants – revolving or not – at the top of this mountain.

Every table at the restaurant is placed by large windows, allowing a peaceful view of the lakeside city from above, alongside the most famous part of Nahuel Huapi Lake, dotted by islands and surrounded by mountains. As you eat Argentine, Hungarian and Swiss cuisine, you’ll be surrounded by Mounts Tronador, Catedral, Lopez, Villegas, Carbon and Ventana, among others.

It’s the gateway to the Patagonian Lake District

Beautiful Patagonia

Beautiful Patagonia

Bariloche is well connected to other exciting destinations in Bariloche and Chile’s Lake District. A bus ride from Bariloche will take you to Pucon, Chile, where you can climb a volcano and enjoy natural hot springs. As part of your overland journey to Pucon, include the Route of Seven Lakes from Bariloche to San Martin de Los Andes, located about halfway between Bariloche and Pucon.

The route is filled with seven lakes that are scattered along the Patagonian desert, colored in varying shades of aquamarine. San Martin is a great Argentine place to spend a day or two, wandering between its colorful house. Located only four hours north of Bariloche, it shares its love for chocolate – so feel free to enjoy it there, too.

-Ayelet Weisz

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